Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

D.C. earthquake shakes Metro trains, roads, and walkers

August 23, 2011 - 02:22 PM
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Employees of ABC 7, Politico, TBD, and NewsChannel 8 outside their Rosslyn offices this afternoon. (Photo: TBD Staff)

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake just struck 87 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., and the shocks have been felt through the D.C. metro area. According to the Washington Post and Unsuck D.C. Metro, WMATA trains are running at 15 miles/hour and inspections are ongoing. The quake hit around 1:50 p.m. and caused noticeable shaking throughout the region.

In Rosslyn, Virginia, the rumbling slowly built and shook both the floor and desks. Dozens of people quickly ran out to the streets as  Nothing in our office here seems to have been damaged. What I'm trying to figure out now is how the earthquake affected D.C. transit — bikes, sidewalks, Metro trains, cars. I've tried calling Metro moments ago but no one answered their press line. We'll have updates soon.

Updated, 2:30 p.m.: I just talked to Dan Stessel, Metro's chief spokesperson, who confirmed that trains are running at 15 miles/hour and that WMATA is running inspections throughout the system now. "No reports of damage," he told me in a voice more rushed than I've heard before.

WMATA has released its first earthquake press release that reiterates these points as well as cautions Metro riders to "expect significant delays." I bet.

Update, 2:58 p.m.: The earthquake also seems to be affecting the District's roads. One person has tweeted that some downtown traffic lights are out and that it's taking five minutes to drive a block. reports congestion on the majority of the area's highways. DDOT immediately reached out via its Twitter account to instruct people in how to behave during an earthquake. "Looks like we're okay," DDOT tweeted. "It was a scary few seconds though."

Update, 3:13 p.m.: Reports are streaming in that Metro stations are packed. The MARC train has suspended service.

Update, 3:28 p.m.: Union Station also seems to have suffered more than most stations. "Was inside union station dc-- bldg shook wildly-- screams as people were running," DavidMuirABC tweeted close to an hour ago. Another person said, "The roof started to collapse in the food court in Union station. oh my." Another person referred to plaster falling. Union Station now appears to be closed, according to many reports. The disaster yielded a hero, according to one tweet: "Biggest DC Earthquake hero so far: Traffic cop in front of Union Station, riding a Segue."

Metro has also released their second update on the earthquake, in which it says that only the Massachusetts entrance to Union Station is closed. WMATA says people should use Union Station's First Street entrance. The train speed restrictions will likely continue for several hours, Metro says, and buses are suffering from delays due to heavy traffic.

Update, 3:38 p.m.: WMATA hit Twitter within a half of the earthquake to let customers know of their press releases and the status of Metro as well as regional transit such as VRE and MARC. We've seen tweets from both chief spokesperson Dan Stessel and social media manager Brian Anderson. Stessel recently let people know of how crowds are being handled: "At this time, many Metro stations extremely crowded. MTPD metering flow of crowds into several downtown stations. ^DS #wmata."

Update, 3:48 p.m.: DDOT says their engineers have cleared the tunnels, and the parks department has promised a big update at 4:30 p.m. The D.C. Bike Advisory Council tweeted that many have turned to bikes — potentially not a bad idea given what are an increasing number of reports about transit delays everywhere. Bits of news are coming from all directions. I'm about to jog down to the Rosslyn station to see how visibly crowded the trains seem there. In the meantime, feel free to join others who have shared their earthquake experiences in the comments. How
 did the earthquake seem to you this afternoon? How's your commute looking?

Update, 4 p.m.: From DDOT: "Disabled car reported in left lane of NB 295 at 11th Street Bridge, backing up traffic." Metro says they're "extending the shifts of rail operators to extend rush hour service."

Update, 4:39 p.m.: Just got back from the Rosslyn station, where chaos reigned. More on that soon. But what's interesting to me now is the fact that Capital Bikeshare stations seem to be next to empty in downtown D.C. Check the CaBi Tracker here to see proof that yes, people likely took to bikes today to escape from the transit chaos. Good luck finding one now though. I don't see any left in central D.C.

Update, 11:11 p.m.: Metro began running trains at 30 miles/hour instead of 15 miles/hour at 10 p.m., according to a recent update to what's now the organization's sixth earthquake press release. Normal train speeds run up to 60 miles/hour. "Crews are inspecting 106 miles of track, bridges, aerial structures and stations for any signs of structural impacts," Metro explained, adding that crews would continue to work overnight and that speed restrictions will last at least through the end of the day. No escalator or elevator damage has been reported so far. Metro's next update — with news of the morning situation and commuting conditions — is planned for 5 a.m. tomorrow.

Many people seem to have endured the delays with grace and relative ease. At the Rosslyn Metro station earlier during a 4 p.m. visit, I witnessed some unexpected chaos, in which mobs of people crowded the lower platform as a train offloaded and escalators weren't working. Read a fuller account of my visit here and see photos here. Driving conditions seemed completely smooth by about 6:45 p.m. when I entered the District after work. It's been quite a day. 

wife called from riverdale while on the sidewalk, I'm in 4th floor office bldg in RCK - duration about a minute, noticeable tremors #wmataless than a minute ago via TweetChat Favorite Retweet Reply

Source says metro trains under 15 mph restriction. #dcquake #wmataless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet Reply

USGS: East Coast earthquake was 3.7 miles deep, with magnitude of 5.9. -EF #earthquakeless than a minute ago via CoTweet Favorite Retweet Reply

i'm actually comforted to know that Metro was earthquake proof. Train kept going, escalator still worked - a #wmata miracle!less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

Careful to all of you #wmata riders. The metro is a mess & they're checking tracks. #earthquakeless than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply


The above tweets reflect the initial half hour after the earthquake. I'll be adding more as the transit systems adjust to the quake. I'll continue to add some notable ones below:

"Attn passengers: I apologize for the slow speed but due to the tremors, earthquake, whatever you want to call it ..." #slowtrain #wmataless than a minute ago via Echofon Favorite Retweet Reply

Insane scene downtown dc because o earthquake.every office building let out at same time and some traffic lights r ... than a minute ago via Twittelator Favorite Retweet Reply

@NEKansasKDOT Thank you. Looks like we're okay. It was a scary few seconds though.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Biggest DC Traffic Jam in August history? #earthquakeless than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

I was underground on the DC Metro when the quake hit. You know it felt like? A typical ride on the DC Metro: Slow and bumpy. #yawn #quakeless than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® Favorite Retweet Reply

">Megan Smith Thorpe

FYI, USSS not even allowing bikes past White House. #bikedc #fb #DCearthquakeless than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® Favorite Retweet Reply

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